As I said in my last post, I read Becoming an Ordinary Mystic intentionally in conversation with Finding God in All Things. Both are focused on spiritual formation by experienced Catholic spiritual directors. Both are written as mini-retreats for readers to receive some of the wisdom and spiritual learning that comes from the spiritual disciplines. Both are elders that write after a lifetime of Christian service.
Becoming an Ordinary Mystic was published just a couple of weeks ago. It is very clearly designed for readers to take seriously spiritual formation. Each chapter has questions and exercises to reflect on the content of the chapter. It was rare that I read more than one chapter at a time because I needed the time to process, and even then, I do not think I spend enough time processing before moving on.
The spiritual life is not to be taken lightly, but also Haase is here to assure us that we should not be taking ourselves too seriously as we seek God. Haase frequently takes a real-life person as an example in most chapters to think about how we need to re-orient ourselves toward God. Whether it be a misunderstanding of God’s affection toward us, or our assumption that God loves us for what we do for God, or distortions in how we understand spiritual disciplines, Haase gently prods us toward greater reliance on God and less reliance on our own strength, while at the same time prodding us toward taking seriously our role.
In general, I am not a fan of call outs, the little sections of quotations, often from another place on the page for emphasis. But in Becoming an Ordinary Mystic, Haase is using those as they should be used, to bring in other voices, not already in the text, emphasizing his point. They are well-chosen quotes, without being distracting, which brings another view to the discussion. I highlighted many of them because they so clearly distilled the points being made into a few sentences, while not distracting from the more detailed analysis around the quotes.
Again, in Becoming an Ordinary Mystic, I am confronted with the Catholic understanding of discernment. Ignatius is referenced in much of the discussion here, and again, I do not disagree with what is being taught, but I am not comfortable with my ability to relay that content to others in a way that would be understood to Protestants that prioritize scripture over the Holy Spirit. Even the phrasing of that is unfair because the Protestants that I reference would say that we best know what the Holy Spirit would be saying because of scripture.
The emphasis that I most appreciate in Becoming an Ordinary Mystic is grace. Haase is very gentle in leading us toward seeking after God. He is teaching principles of prayer and discernment and an understanding of God that relies on God’s grace as the primary mover. Protestants often mischaracterize Catholicism as a form of ‘works righteousness.’ I find that it is hard to read about a Catholic understanding of spiritual formation without long discussions of God’s grace in even our ability to seek after God.
Even in his discussion of the spiritual disciplines, which is what underlies the whole book, there is remolding of the concept of spiritual disciplines not as a type of gym equipment that we use to strengthen ourself to do the work of God, but instead he likes the image of spiritual disciples as an alarm clock that wakes us up to how God is working around us. The spiritual disciples are not work that we do ourselves. Instead, “The transformation occurs as we open ourselves and respond to God’s longing and invitation. Spiritual practices facilitate this opening and surrender of the will.”
Toward the end of the book, he suggests that the reader seek out a spiritual director of their own. As part of the discussion around that, he has one of the best short descriptions of Spiritual Direction I have seen:
“Your life belongs to God, not to me. So many people wrongly presume that a spiritual director directs your life like a conductor directing different parts of an orchestra. But that’s not my role as a spiritual director—nor would I presume to tell you how to live your life. I’m a spiritual director in another sense. My role is to direct your attention to the many ways the Spirit might be moving in your life. By asking you open-ended questions such as ‘What is God saying to you in that feeling?,’ ‘Where do you experience the call to growth right now?,’ ‘When did you last experience God like that?,’ ‘What do you think God might be inviting you to do in this situation?,’ ‘How are you praying with this experience?,’ I try to clarify and heighten your awareness of God’s longing in the nitty-gritty of your daily schedule. And then we discuss how best you can respond to that grace.”